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Building Trust in Sponsored Benefits: Why AMBA Acquired The Mercer Associations Business

  
By Steven Cardinal, CEO, AMBA

When Association Member Benefits Advisors (AMBA) announced our recent acquisition of Mercer’s Associations business, I heard from members of PIMA who understandably wanted to learn more about me, AMBA, and why AMBA made this bold decision.

I’m humbled by the opportunity to connect with PIMA members because of the unique role PIMA plays in connecting organizations that would otherwise be considered competitors. From my perspective, the sponsored benefit space has an incredible opportunity for long-term success. Associations and other affinity organizations may struggle independently, but with valued partners from the members of PIMA, they have a chance to remain relevant.

At AMBA, one of the leading providers of end-to-end insurance, marketing, and administration services to affinity groups across the U.S. and Canada, we share that belief: The success of others in our industry ensures a vibrant community that will make all our stakeholders more successful. In short, a rising tide lifts all boats.

We fully understand the critical historical relationship between Mercer and PIMA, and I take the ongoing stewardship of that relationship personally.

Why?

I’ve been in the insurance industry for almost 30 years. I entered the business because, for maybe the first time in my life, I listened to my father. As I was considering an offer to sell software, he told me, “If I could do it all over again, I would go into insurance.” I took his advice, turned down the offer, and started my career selling insurance for MetLife.

I loved the peace of mind customers had after we met, the trust we developed, and the knowledge that their families would be protected because of our relationship. That feeling of connecting and building trust has guided me throughout my career.

I spent several years on the carrier side with publicly traded companies. My early roles were focused on sales and distribution, which led to managing complex affinity marketing organizations. Along the way, I became the P&L leader for multiple insurance product lines. By early 2017, these experiences steered me towards the opportunity to lead AMBA.

Today, in addition to being a leading one-stop-shop service provider to affinity groups, AMBA is one of the largest organizations solely focused on affinity associations' and their members' needs. We have been recognized as one of the fastest-growing companies in the industry. We have accomplished year-over-year organic growth, fueled by a robust marketing and enrollment capabilities built on our proprietary technology and market-leading processes.

When I joined AMBA in 2017, AMBA was a nearly 40-year-old family-run business with an incredible growth story. It had established trusting relationships with various associations and carriers and had the most passionate team of associates I had ever met. I was quickly convinced that we could write exciting new chapters of this growth story by making critical investments in people, processes, and technology.

We have done just that by joining the existing leadership team of AMBA and several key friends and colleagues who have helped me solve complex problems over the years.

We first worked to understand the values and needs of our customers, employees, benefits advisors, association partners, and carrier partners to build and validate our growth thesis. During this process, we identified key areas of investment – technology, marketing, data, and analytics – and other foundational programs that would be required to serve our clients at an even higher level. Our Board of Directors was excited that these investments would allow us to scale and ensure we could offer valuable benefits to protect more and more affinity group members.

Most importantly, we sought to ensure that our association and carrier partners could grow alongside AMBA.

Over the next several years, we spearheaded industry-leading organic growth and acquired several businesses focused on the affinity space. These fantastic organizations had relationships with associations and carriers that spanned years and, in some cases, decades. They also had super-talented individuals dedicated to helping customers, members, and association partners.

Building on our key investment areas, we acquired businesses that helped expand our technology, marketing, and data and analytics capabilities. Following each acquisition, we carefully integrated the teams with minimal disruption, worked hard to retain talent, and established solid relationships with our new carrier and association partners.

It is rewarding for me to watch our stakeholders thrive alongside our growth. We have seen virtually all the association relationships from the legacy AMBA days prosper by providing top-notch benefit solutions to their members and increasing membership numbers when membership growth has been stagnant. Meanwhile, we’ve used our existing capabilities to help grow our new association clients through expansion.

It is exciting to watch employees that were part of each acquisition build incredibly successful careers at AMBA, flourishing in our growing organization. We have carriers we have partnered with for years that are excited about reinvigorated growth and new carrier partners who are eager to be part of our story.

So why were we interested in the Mercer Association business specifically?

AMBA was approached about the opportunity to acquire Mercer’s Associations business through connections who were intimately knowledgeable about AMBA’s culture, growth trajectory, history of successful prior acquisitions, and intense focus on affinity partner success. High on Mercer’s priority list was to find an organization that would make a perfect new home for its associates and client relationships. While there were many interested parties, we were honored to be chosen to accept that responsibility earlier this year.

During the acquisition process, I had the chance to meet with several employees, associations, and carrier partners, which helped confirm that our cultures and values were completely aligned. The legacy Mercer associates had the same passion for helping customers that had fueled me early in my career when I was directly helping and building trust with customers by selling life, auto, and home insurance.

The businesses complement each other almost perfectly. As a result, our association partners benefit from a company with a broadened product suite, marketing expertise, distribution capabilities, technology, and administrative platform. The talented teams from legacy AMBA and legacy Mercer are integrating and working well together to serve our associations in new and evolving ways.

I’ve been humbled to work alongside my new coworkers, continuously impressed with how they mesh seamlessly with the legacy AMBA teams. Together, we are finding new ways to improve the solutions we offer to association members and preparing for our next chapter. To accomplish this, we have identified several investments to ensure the next wave of growth for AMBA and our partners. These include adding new technology, marketing programs, and critical resources to bring our company and clients innovative perspectives and expertise.

AMBA is grateful for PIMA's involvement with organizations that support the sponsored benefits space. PIMA provides the entire industry with ways to interact and work together to ensure a healthy association and affinity benefits environment. Our legacy Mercer colleagues have valued their historical relationship with PIMA, and now AMBA is excited to continue that relationship with active participation. As we move forward, we hope we can be as much of a resource for PIMA as PIMA has been to the broader industry.

About AMBA

Association Member Benefits Advisors (AMBA) works to help bring people together by serving our associations and members. Our commitment to this work has made us one of the fastest growing supplemental benefits providers in the country. AMBA views itself as an extension of your organization.

https://www.amba.info/


Published in Insights Magazine on November 18, 2022.

PIMA® (Professional Insurance Marketing Association®) is a member-driven trade association focused exclusively on the affinity market.

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